Musician Larry “Wild Man” Fischer died on June 16th at age 66. Challenged by severe mental illness his whole life, he was one of the earliest known examples of Outsider Music with his tuneless, shouted ditties that somehow still tapped into the joy of music and performance. A sympathetic NYT obituary had:
His voice was raspy and very loud. There was little tune to his melodies, and his lyrics had the repetitiveness and seeming simplicity of nursery rhymes. His singing, typically a cappella, was punctuated by vocal effects like hooting, wailing and shouting. Whether Mr. Fischer was a naïve genius whose work embodied primal truths, or simply a madman who practiced a musicalized form of ranting, is the subject of continuing debate.
Wild Man was a familiar figure around the comics/music world in LA, and staged some Comic-Con performances in the late ’80s, mostly through his friendship with Barnes & Barnes, aka Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer, who produced two of his albums and in particular, his amazing duet with Rosemary Clooney, “It’s a Tough Business.”
I was a fan, and had many conversations with him, sometimes much challenged by his personal hygiene, which was terrible due to mostly living on the street. But he was a gentle, kind soul who repaid the friendship of those who looked out for him, as difficult as it was due to his mental illness. In the early ’90s, he was slated to be a guest on the cable access show which I produced with Charles “Mr. Music” Andrews. Wild Man showed up at the studio, quite a feat given that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. He was quite uneasy in the waiting room, while Charles and I attended up some business or other. We literally turned our backs for one moment, and when we turned around he had bolted. I have a vivid memory of running out inter the Silverlake street looking for him, and standing there in bewilderment — in less than a moment he had vanished completely. Obviously making a quick getaway was a survival skill he had honed.
Fischer’s comic book connections led to a graphic biography, The Legend of Wild Man Fischer by Dennis Eichhorn and JR Williams. You can still get a copy from Top Shelf.
I was thinking about him just the other day, perhaps around the time he died. To be honest, I thought I had heard he had died a few years ago, so I was surprised to come across the obituary. I hope he had some happiness in his life to match that which he gave others.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.